Almost Otaku: Do You HAVE to Like the Main Character?

Topic started by No_name_here on July 14, 2010. Last post by YotaruVegeta 4 years, 3 months ago.
Post by No_name_here (856 posts) See mini bio Level 11

 You're a jerk, Light!
 You're a jerk, Light!

Do you have to like a show’s lead? I’m riffing a little on a question I asked a while back… but I think there’s a subtle difference, here. Probably the most basic criterion anybody has for a story is whether they like the characters - - hell, there are whole books about making characters likable. I’ve heard many a show written off with comments like, “The main character’s an ass. I couldn’t STAND him!”

But is likability really the issue?

Most of the big shows I’ve been watching and enjoying here have had deeply-flawed protagonists. And they’re not the typical “He’s a jerk, but he gets better” flawed characters you encounter everywhere else. Light was, of course, a masterful liar on top of being the most, well, prolific serial killer in DEATH NOTE’s world. Most people complained about Shinji being a whiny twerp in EVANGELION. Now, I’m watching FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST and Edward Elric’s a rude know-it-all (and not in an endearing way.) Then again, they're all trying to save the world in one way or another, so that goes a long way in endearing you to them but, still... I can’t help but see a pattern. 

 You're a loser, Shinji!
 You're a loser, Shinji!

See, I’ve noticed something about villains. Most of the famous villains are ones people “love to hate” but I think the effective ones, the one that are really hard to write, are the one you can’t stand. It’s a bit of head trip to get past when you're in the audience. I can’t think of too many examples in anime, but I’ve encountered a lot in Stephen King books. You can’t stand the villains, you hate what they say, you’re angry whenever they win, you want them out of the story… and then, you realize, that’s the point.

Flowing from the same stream, the heroes I listed earlier have a lot of unlikable traits - - you might even get annoyed by them - - but you can't stop watching.  It's really just a matter of execution. A story about likable white hats can be great, but it can just as easily get boring, real fast.  And I have to say, it's lot more interesting to see characters like this presented as they would actually be like, warts and all.
Anyway, I'm sure all of you Anime Vice lunatics have plenty examples and counter-examples, so break the dam and let them flow out! Add to my point of reference, here!

-- Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Studios and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia. Pre-order the HYBRID BASTARDS! hardcover now on

Post by sickVisionz (4,307 posts) See mini bio Level 24
For me is less about liking them in the sense of, "he's awesome if he was real then we'd be BFF" and more about liking them as a character in a story.  There are shows like School Days where I dislike the main guy for personal reasons (he's a jerk) but I love that the character is done well and that their actions are actually having an emotional effect on me and pulling me into the series.
Post by Hellos (2,482 posts) See mini bio Level 11

If you plan on enjoying the series I would assume you can at the least stand the main character or must have one hell of a cast to keep you watching / reading.  
Either way we are the flawed protagonists of our own stories! :P    
Post by kashif1 (1,813 posts) See mini bio Level 13
i still don't know why you dislike ed but no we don't have to like our protagonists
Post by zaldar (1,291 posts) See mini bio Level 15
Yeah don't consider ed an annoying know it all even in brotherhood where he is more of one than in the first show (he is referring to brotherhood here kashif1) but no.  I like shows more where like you the main character is a real person and like they would be in reality which might very well make him unlikable or at least unlikable to me.  I wouldn't spend 2 days with shinji but he is still one of my favorite and one of the best drawn characters I know.
Post by BrightBlueInk (2 posts) See mini bio Level 1
 I think my favorite characters are definitely those that have some sort of flaws...even if they would be annoying in real life. I even liked Shinji!
As for villains like what you've described...there's only one I've found that effective. Gauron from the Full Metal Panic! franchise. He's DESPICABLE and terrifying--partially because he's very human and not some monster made out of shadows and pure darkness, but he's so despicable, insane and downright creepy that he doesn't come across as redeemable at all. His twisted obsession with Sasuke is the icing on the creepy cake. I've never been happier to see a character blown up.
Post by barashin (16 posts) See mini bio Level 5
If there's any main character I hate it's Evangelion's Shinji!! He's the reason why I stopped watching it half way!!
Post by zaldar (1,291 posts) See mini bio Level 15
Oh the word we are all looking for here is anti-hero.  It is a pretty western idea actually but the Japanese certainly do it better than the west.  More often present in books than in movies.  Definilty makes for a more interesting character though..
And bar you should give eva another chance..shinji is realistic..if you were 13 and someone told you that you were the only one who could save the planet and if you failed all human life would end..I doubt you would have reacted any better than he did..
Post by Gasero (167 posts) See mini bio Level 9
There aren't may anime where I find myself liking the main character. The top anime I watch right now are Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece and I don't like the main character in any of those. There is however a large cast of characters that I get to choose from and they all have their good/bad traits.
The case of Detective Conan is a weird one because while I like Jimmy Kudo as a character, the fact that he's went so long without revealing himself is just ridiculous to me.
Post by metalsnakezero (675 posts) See mini bio Level 16
Sometimes the main character may not be the main forces of the series and it is the people that the main interact with are the main subject.
Post by BestChancethor (13 posts) See mini bio Level 2
I absolutely hated Legato Bluesummers. i hated everything abouth im and Knives. But when he died it was like a weight being lifted off the whole anime, hell I even felt a weight lifted in my chest.     

  I'm not a big fan of naruto but there no dearth of characters to like and get to know in the series. My personal favorites are Lee, itachi and shika, and maybe ten-ten if she'd get more airtime

Light was definitely one of those chars that I loved to hate. 
Post by YuiAsakawa (10 posts) See mini bio Level 9
I think normal, straightforward lead characters are less engaging than complex, issue-ridden ones. We need a reason to relate to them. And complex chaarcters with flaws are much more human and relatable. If they're everyday, we don't relate as much, because that's not exciting ... or realistic.
Post by LordCraven (46 posts) See mini bio Level 8

There are usually enough awesome side characters in anime to make up for any lame main charaters. All the people I know who like Bleach hate Ichigo, but love Zaraki, Hitsyuga, Ulquiorra etc. 
In Evangelion you get Auska and Mari and in Deathnote you get L. 
I don't mind a flawed protagonist myself. I find them more interesting. But I am glad they made Shinji less pathetic in Rebuild though.

Post by AgentJ (1,545 posts) See mini bio Level 13
Nope. in fact, they don't even have to be well written, as long as the supporting cast pulls its weight. 
Post by CharredKnight (74 posts) See mini bio Level 8

Ed tones it down considerably, in fact one of the main themes of the series is being humble.
Post by sotyfan16 (1,341 posts) See mini bio Level 20

Ed is definitely not like you say Tom. He may get annoying at times to people but never someone to hate as a protagonist. There are some protagonists that I wish did some different things at certain times in the theirs series but there has only been one that I hated. As I stated many times in the Death Note Watch & Learns, I liked like as he was my favorite character and I wanted him to win. The protagonist I hate, with a passion, is Shinji. I see him as such a pathetic piece of shit. Was he well developed? Yes. But whether a character is well developed or has a great supporting cast makes no difference to me (so I don't want to hear about how I don't know what it's like to be in Shinji's shoes as no one, ever, in fact, has). 
Before I look at the characters I care about the story and animation. I accept the characters that come with each anime.

Post by SamJaz (12,928 posts) See mini bio Level 20
One of the main reasons I boycott harem manga is that I can't stand the main character- a spineless loser who somehow gets more girls that he deserves. I dropped Eva not because of the characters, who I found interesting, but because I read 'Shinji and Warhammer40k' first, in which Shinji is a greater magnificent bastard than Gendo. It was so awesome, it put the actual show to shame, but I am enjoying the Rebuild movies.
I digress. For me, it's not so much likeable characters but interesting characters. Look at LOST's Benjamin Linus. Who here likes him? Nobody, but he was a damned interesting character to watch. JOhan Liebert, for example, I detested with a passion but he was a fantastic antagonist.
On the other hand, You get characters that are completely devoid of any positive trait but you love them simply because they are so entertaining. Keep an eye out for Envy and Kimblee when you get to them in FMA. Both horrible, horrible people, but they make you laugh.
And that's what does it for me. If they make me enjoy the show better, then I freaking love it.  Which is actually one of the reasons I quite like Sasuke *Dodges rocks* No, I'm not emo nor a fanboy. My point is, imagine how boring Naruto would be without him. Oh, he's a self-loving arrogant son of a bitch that I want to beat senseless with a half-brick in a ninja sock, but I like what he's done for the plot.
So, yeah. It's not characters you like, or characters you love to hate. It's characters that make the show better.
Post by FoxxFireArt (2,645 posts) See mini bio Level 25
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I think there needs to be something relatable to a character. Something as an audience member we can attach to. We don't need to be carbon copies to relate though. 
I didn't approve of everything Lelouch did in the Code Geass series, but I related to him on a few levels. At the heart of his quest. He was trying to find out who killed his mother, and crippled his little sister. He never watched to rule anyone.
I was ready to drop Death Note until L was added at the end of the second episode. I really didn't like Light and was ready to stop watching the show until I saw a detective was added. I believe you need to like someone in the show. Why watch a show where you don't like anyone you ever see? That would seem a tad masochistic. 
I could of easily stopped watching Death Note if L had never appeared.

Though, Light was trying to rule the world. Not save it. Was Shinji trying to save the world, or get the attention of his neglectful father. Edward Elric was trying to get his life back the way it was before they tried to revive their mother.
@Gasero said:
" The case of Detective Conan is a weird one because while I like Jimmy Kudo as a character, the fact that he's went so long without revealing himself is just ridiculous to me. "

He was only called Jimmy Kudo in the US bastardization of the series that VIZ released. How is it ridiculous that Shinichi has gone so long without revealing himself? With that series. You need to understand that in manga time. A year hasn't even passed. Despite how many winters there have been in the series.
His disguise is a little better then Clark Kent. It's not like he could choose to change back and forth whenever he wanted.
@YuiAsakawa said:
" I think normal, straightforward lead characters are less engaging than complex, issue-ridden ones. We need a reason to relate to them. And complex chaarcters with flaws are much more human and relatable. If they're everyday, we don't relate as much, because that's not exciting ... or realistic. "
True, but I never saw that was so relatable about Light Yagami. He was a boy who came from a good family, smart, and easily got into the best school in Japan. Girls threw themselves at him. As Kira he easily murdered the innocent for his own ideal of justice when he was just a serial killer. He killed probably as many innocent people as he did guilty. He even murdered a purse snatcher for his own goal, and the only reason he didn't kill his sister was because he could explain away how Kira would of learned of it.
He also damned the soul of his own honest, hard working father for his own personal gain. He was generally abusive toward women and a psychopath. Still, audiences said they "rooted" for him the whole series and said it made them feel happy when he would kill innocent people.
Post by Theresonlyone (91 posts) See mini bio Level 9
I like most main characters but some are just idiots Kurono from Gantz for example what an unlikable little prick he was.
Post by SamJaz (12,928 posts) See mini bio Level 20
@Theresonlyone: I take it you haven't read the manga. For people who have, Kurono is a fantastic example of how a character matures into a great human being. For me, Kurono is an absolute legend, despite starting off as a prick.
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